We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The most dangerous thing to do, at this point, would be to vaccinate children. The virus is not a threat to them, and if they are infected by the new forms of SARS-2 that are sure to emerge every winter, we will begin to establish – through them and the as yet unvaccinated – the layered immunity that is the only way of coming to terms with SARS-2 in the longer term. As long as the vaccinators are permitted to continue their radical and increasingly insane campaign, though, nothing will improve. Indeed, their policies threaten to bring about a semi-permanent pandemic state for generations to come.

Eugyppius

Brian (Micklethwait) and I chat about how lucky we are to NOT live in the Middle Ages

Brian and I recorded a couple of conversations which remained unpublished at the time of this death. This is the first.

Any comments – which would be gratefully received – are probably best left here on Samizdata.

Interesting and significant (probably) to see Brian’s influence all over the preceding post. My apologies to anyone reading this who didn’t know him and feels left out.

A sad walk around Berlin

Our late colleague and friend Brian Micklethwait was very good at making people think. In particular he was very good at making me think, and even at times making me write. Often he would say something interesting that would make me write something as a response that I would never think to write for any other reason, and this blog, his own blog and its predecessors are full of articles and comments that were responses to things he started me thinking about. He had a tendency to repost my comments as articles when he found them particularly interesting, and many of our conversations took place in the articles and comment sections of various blogs. He loved posting photos of quirky things, fascinating objects, major pieces of architecture and engineering and interesting maps of places around the world that looked like they might be interesting.

Brian was not a great traveller. He was very pro-American, but he never visited the United States. He had done some travel earlier in life – including some behind the Iron Curtain before it fell, which I wish I had been able to do – but in the final two decades of his life when I knew him, he only ever really left London for regular summer trips to visit some friends in France. He clearly enjoyed this immensely, but travel was too much of a hassle for him unless there was warm hospitality as well as good company at the end of it.

He did, however, inspire me to travel. I saw photos of interesting things on his blog, and I researched them and wanted to go there, and I often did. He found this amusing, but he also liked to talk about what I had seen and photographed with me, so this continued the thoughts and conversations. (I still haven’t been on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, alas, although I have been on the similar but not quite as spectacular Matheran Hill Railway south of Mumbai).

In any event, in March this year Brian posted a pictographic map of Berlin in 1440 that he knew nothing of the origins of Berlin, but that he found the map interesting, showing a town or small city on two islands in the river Spree with a third island on the left that was at not that point significantly populated. As it happened, I knew relatively little about the origins of Berlin either, but I was instantly curious. I have been to Berlin many times, but I couldn’t have told you where the original town was. (Actually Berlin was technically two towns at the time – Berlin on one island and Cölln on the other). So I researched it, and discovered that although Berlin had some medieval city walls, these had not protected the city well in the Thirty Years War. The relatively unfortified city had subsequently been fortified into a star fort between 1650 and 1683, at which time the two outer streams of the river surrounding the three islands had been turned into a moat and the inner banks replaced with high walls. These walls then subsided into the swamps on which Berlin was built and were torn down starting in 1734, after which the two outer streams of the river were filled in, leaving only one island. The route of the north-easterly wall/stream was eventually used as the route for the Stadtbahn – Berlin’s main east-west railway. The south-easterly route, well, it was filled in and replaced with a layout of streets. Where it was is not obvious on a map or in a photograph.

I also found some modern maps and photographs of Berlin, and sent them to Brian. The inner island, the Spreeinsel, is recognisably the same between the oldest map and the newest photo, and does still have some remnants of being the important centre, including Berlin’s protestant cathedral, but the northern half northern half of it became the site of Berlin’s greatest museums, many of which have been reconstructed in recent times and restored to something even beyond their pre-WWII glory. In the comments, further conversation ensued. More people got involved in the conversation.

Inevitably in all this, I booked a trip to Berlin to wander around and look at the city from this new (or old) perspective. This was originally booked for April 2021. This was optimistic on my part given the circumstances, but I have actually done a lot of optimistic booking of travel over the last 18 months, the vast bulk of which has subsequently been rebooked, postponed and/or cancelled. (Lots of things have been ludicrously cheap to book due to travel companies promising anything in return for being given even small amounts of money, and have then been deferred to the indefinite future. Hopefully these companies will not now go bankrupt when they are forced to catch up with their liabilities). In any event, this trip was postponed to this month.

And, well, on Friday October 15 I got on a plane having received the awful news earlier in the day that Brian had died that morning.

Trying to find old things in Berlin is a struggle. There was a fairly small town there in 1400, but since then it has been drained, expanded, made a provincial capital, rebuilt, fortified, invaded once or twice, expanded again, demolished, rebuilt again, expanded some more, fortified, rebuilt again and turned into an imperial capital, torn down, blown up, bombed to rubble, blown up some more, turned into a communist capital, demolished again, neglected, expanded some more and rebuilt again and made into a national capital, just giving he highlights. In most cities, the geographical and historical bones stick through. In Berlin, much less so. The watercourses to some extent, but that is all.

I attempted to look for remnants of the old city walls. In most cities it would be helpful to type “[City Name] wall remnants” into Google, but “Berlin Wall Remnants” gets something else. To make things even more complicated there was another wall, the Customs Wall, that was built around 1737 for tax collection purposes (boo). Most Berlin place names refereeing to gates (most notably the Brandenburg Gate) refer to this wall. So, I actually found myself looking at the original maps of Berlin in 1440 (and the later map of the star fortress in around 1683), looking carefully for the rights bends and branches and former branches of the river. I started well, finding a piece of (obviously restored) medieval city wall in Littenstrasse>. But that was it for finding further pieces of wall. I followed the approximate line of Littenstrasse through Alexanderplatz, just to the south of the Stadtbahn along the top of what had been Alt-Berlin.

The street plan had been changed by the centuries and the Prussians and the fascists and the communists, and I found nothing more medieval. I crossed the Spree at Bodestrasse, between the Neues Museum (now again containing the bust of Nefertiti, as it did before 1939) and the Berliner Dom, the now restored protestant cathedral that had still been in post-WWII ruins when I first visited Berlin in 1992. I then doubled back to the top of the island before walking past the Humboldt University of Berlin, through Bebelplatz (site of the Nazis infamous book burnings), past the Roman Catholic St. Hedwig’s Cathedral (at present closed for the East German post-war modernist restoration to be removed and replaced with something more tasteful and less full of asbestos) and Oberwallstrasse, Niederwallstrasse, and Wallstrasssse, the latter three streets following the route (with a little straightening) of the wall of the star fortress, at least some of the bends in the shape of that wall being apparent. And back where I started, but on the other side of the river, having circumnavigated the old cities of Berlin and Cölln.

But there was one more thing to see. When we were looking at old and new pictures of Berlin, Brian’s cousin (I think) David Micklethwait commented that the only building that could be seen in the first, last, and intermediate pictures of Berlin was the Berliner Schloss (Berlin Palace), originally the Churfurstl Schloss (Elector’s Palace), home of the heads of House of Hohenzollern during their long journey from Margraves of Brandenburg to being Emperors of Germany before Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate in 1918.

Except, I did some further research and it is stranger than that. Rather than being the oldest building in the later photo of Berlin, the Berliner Schloss is actually one of the very youngest – the current building was completed in 2020. The original building was badly but not irreparably damaged in World War 2. The East Germans at times used it as a backdrop for a War movie (including firing live ammunition at it), partly repaired it and used it as office space, denounced it as a symbol of Prussian militarism, and finally demolished it in 1950, partly for ideological reasons but mainly because they were arseholes. The Palace of the Republic – the East German parliament – was then built on the site. After German reunification in 1990, the new German government demolished this building, partly for ideological reasons and partly because it was full of asbestos.

After much discussion, the Palace was rebuilt as the Humboldt Forum, a museum featuring a reconstruction of the Berliner Schloss on the exterior but with an entirely modern interior. (The result was then denounced by the New York Times as an attempt to hide the history of Prussian militarism). Brian found this amusing, as it fitted in with another of his ideas – the triumph of modernism on the insides of buildings but not so much on the outside. His recent thoughts on this subject came in the context of hospitals, alas.

So, I finished my walk around old Berlin with a visit to the Berliner Schloss / Humboldt Forum. And, well, it’s weirder than that.

If you are going to reconstruct old buildings after a war, there are a few things you can do. You can take what is left, and use modern techniques and designs to rebuilt the rest, leaving you with a building that is half and half new and old. (Lots of buildings in Britain and for that matter in West Germany that were quickly rebuilt after WWII are like this). You can reconstruct the new parts in hopefully a sympathetic and complementary style, but also in such a way that the new bits are obviously new rather than old. (Much of the recent restorations of central Gdansk are like this, and I like them a lot). You can attempt to restore the damaged part of the building to the same design as before. The aforementioned Berliner Dom is an example of this. Or you can demolish the ruins and start again, either in the same style or differently. Rebuilding exactly what was there before (as was done in the centre of Warsaw) perhaps works if you do it right away (as the Poles did) but the longer you leave it, the more the result looks like trite and artificial, at least at first. (For an example, look at the Dresden Frauenkirche. It’s a brand new Baroque building with no wear built to modern health and safety standards)

And well, the architects who rebuilt the Berliner Schloss decided to make the fact that it is a reconstruction obvious, by building the front wall (including the main entrance) and two side walls as perfect reconstructions of the original down to every detail, but the back wall in a rather severe modernist style. Similarly, the main courtyard has three interior walls in the Prussian Baroque style of the original building and one in modernist wall. If you look at the building from the front or the sides, it looks like an (admittedly brand new) Prussian Baroque palace. From the back, it looks like a modernist building. From other angles, it looks mostly like an old building, but not quite.

Does it work? I’m not sure. It would have no chance of working anywhere other than in the strange city of Berlin, which is a mix of old and new and original and reconstructed and broken and repaired and has been a showcase of every German regime for the last 500 years – for good or for bad.

A month ago, and a year ago, and ten years ago, and twenty years ago, I would have talked about all this with Brian when I got back. I might have e-mailed him photos when I was still there. There would have been more sharing of photos and conversing and commenting on blogs. He might well have called me an idiot if I said something I disagreed with. I have no idea whether he would have liked or disliked the rebuilt Schloss Berlin, but he would have had something interesting to say about it. He loved talking about what buildings looked like in the context of the surrounds of the cities they were in, and found that too much architectural commentary didn’t focus on this and instead talked about buildings in isolation. I agreed with him on this point, which is one reason why I go places to see stuff.

Anyway, the point is that I miss Brian. Fuck cancer.

Because they will take them

Not long ago, a committee for determining who receives a prestigious annual American Geophysical Union award was reconstructed to be more diverse (especially, more representative of those who who had “been very vocal” about the need for such diversity).

To the new committee’s dismay, however, the membership had apparently not been reconstructed enough in all fields. As per the usual process, peer-submitted candidates were whittled down to a shortlist of the five best in each field and submitted to the committee, but in one field:

Every nominee on the list was a white man. “That was kind of a bit of a showstopper for me,” said Helen Fricker, a glaciologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the five committee members. (quoted from a Scientific American article)

The same statistical techniques that the field’s researchers use in their work could have been used to show this was not so very surprising, but the reconstructed committee members did not see it that way. They refused to choose any of the five.

The resolution of this is ongoing but I think we know something about the person (I use this word advisedly) who will (probably) ultimately ‘win’. My post is to say we know something else about them as well – something that an (in)famous man explained about how his yet more (in)famous boss chose people.

“The wicked, who have something on their conscience, are obliging, quick to hear threats, because they know how it’s done, and for booty. You can offer them things, because they will take them.” (Hermann Goering to his lawyer at Nuremberg)

Who will consent to receive an award that is ostensibly for skill in science, knowing that their peers in the field (peers who have, incidentally, chosen a woman for the award in the past) think them less worthy of it than five or more candidates passed over for being the wrong race and sex? Answer: someone woke enough to take it on those terms. So, while the proportion of women and men of colour in the field of ice science is relatively low, I offer the speculation – or rather, the moral hope – that it prove neither so low nor so corrupt that the one who agrees to take the award will necessarily be the one judged worthiest within that subgroup by their peers.

In other words, I hope the one who takes it will indeed belong to a minority – the minority of those who can be offered such things because they will take them.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The alarmism is the goal. The goal is the alarmism.”

Michael Shellenberger, as interviewed by Jordan Peterson. He is talking about the fearmongering of much of the contemporary Green movement, and what drives it. I really hope that a pushback is coming when the public fully wake up to what’s involved.

Is Omarova evil (and stupid) or stupid (and evil)?

In 1989, Boris Yeltsin visited a supermarket in Texas (in the past, such things were reported even in the NYT):

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”

Not so Biden’s candidate for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova. Biden chose her because she would be “the first woman and person of color” to serve in that role, but that would not be her only ‘first’. In that same year of 1989, she graduated from Moscow State University on the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship. She thought the Soviet system superior to capitalism then, and thirty years later, she still believes:

“Say what you will about old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always ‘know best’.” (Omarova, 2019, quoted here)

She’s also outright hostile to the idea of supply and demand determining the likes of salaries and product prices, preferring instead to see the federal government — the state — set such values.

I say ‘also’ in the paragraph above, but my question in this post is: does she know how much socialism relies on the second when ‘achieving’ the first?

“The beauty of this system was that an NKVD man could receive twelve times what a doctor did and the doctor didn’t know it. The doctor knew what the NKVD man was paid, which was the same as he was, but he didn’t know what the NKVD man could buy with it.”

You didn’t have to be in the communist secret police to discover how a state that controlled distribution could match equal pay for interrogators and doctors to unequal reward. In Stalin’s day, an earlier defector (Kravchenko, ‘I Chose Freedom’) thought that, as regards the very highest ranks of this system,

not one Russian in a thousand suspected that such abundant shops existed

but he discovered for himself that, although

as department head in the sovnarkom, I did not earn half as much as I used to earn in industry, and I received none of the administrative bonuses that factory administrators awarded themselves,

the amount he was paid meant little, because what mattered was

the shops in which you were permitted to buy.

His new post gave him access to certain additional outlets – outlets which might still have looked shabby if compared to Yetsin’s Texas supermarket, but which would have looked as wonderful to ordinary Russians as that supermarket did to Yeltsin, had they been allowed inside.

By 1989, far more than one Russian in a thousand knew this – and so did some visiting foreigners. A women I met at Oxford had spent months on a course in the Soviet Union about five years earlier than Omarova – an unusual course where the foreigners lived like the Russian students, shopping in the same outlets. She had her Yeltsin moment upon her return: “When I went into Sainsbury’s, I burst into tears.” (her exact words).

IIUC, Omarova would have lived better on a Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship – would have had access to some of the special suppliers most Russian students had to do without -although their stipends were probably much the same in rouble terms. What I wonder is, does she know how much socialism’s on-paper ‘elimination’ of pay-gaps (gender and otherwise) depends on control of distribution, or is her enthusiasm for both simply the effect of swallowing the whole ideological package? Is she as thick as a brick (as we say in Britain), or is she as thick as two short planks (as we also say in Britain)? Is she useful, and idiotic only with the deep absurdity of desiring to be useful to such a cause, or is she a useful idiot of a shallower kind?

The unapologetic face of totalitarianism

Lin Jinyue, designer of China’s totalitarian social credit system explain how it would have prevented Gilets Jaunes & any other protests.

(via Alan Miller)

Samizdata quote of the day

I fear that, having once been sacrificed on the altar of the NHS and its limited capacity, our freedoms are no longer safe from the utilitarian knife. The same people telling us to shop alone, drink alone, and be in bed by eleven, to save lives from Coronavirus, will continue to make the same arguments over lesser risks.

If we accept pubs serving no alcohol, or alcohol only with a meal, or closing at ten, on the shaky ground that it reduces the spread of a virus, why not accept similar measures to take the strain of drunkenness off A&E departments every weekend? It can’t be coincidence that those rules fit so well with public health campaigners’ longstanding desire to wean us off our boozy nights out.

Timadra Harkness

There are some questionable assumption in the linked article but the points above are an absolute certainty. People need to push back and not be too concerned with being polite.

“He told me it was now his apartment because he’s an anarchist and nobody owns anything.”

The indefatigable Andy Ngô reports a little falling out among Antifa comrades Sean Gabriel Lopez and Camillo Masagli:

Mr Lopez, who goes by the name “No$hu”, tweeted at 6:35 PM on Oct 18, 2021:

No$hu
@Noshu4me

Camillo ( who you know as trumpet man) and his girlfriend just tried to overtake my apartment. I let them stay there after they reached out to me from Seattle, telling me that they were houseless and needed help. I paid for their train ticket and gave them my space to stay in.

And at 6:40 PM.

He told me it was now his apartment because he’s an anarchist and nobody owns anything. I asked them to leave, and that only made them more angry. They than [sic] made threats while standing between me and the exit, but I was able to leave that night after letting them calm down.

Not to blow my own trumpet regarding “trumpet man”, but I predicted this ten years ago: “Upon what basis can an Occupy protest ask someone to leave?”

This doesn’t help

Some guys called “disclose.tv” sent this tweet:

NEW – The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will not enforce 29 CFR 1904’s recording requirements to require employers to record worker side effects from #COVID19 vaccination.

I do not know anything about disclose.tv but the link does seem to take you to the Coronavirus FAQs page of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Scroll down the page to the heading “Vaccine Related”. The text of the answer is as described in the tweet.

Many libertarians argue that OSHA’s reporting requirements have long since ceased to be aimed at preserving public health. Most government bureaucracies become parasites eventually. Their purpose is to feed. But if it is justified to force businesses to report side effects of vaccinations in general, how can that justification suddenly stop applying now of all times? The pandemic is the very time when it is most important that all relevant information reaches the community of scientists.

I have been vaccinated against Covid-19 (both jabs AstraZeneca if you want to know). I believe that for most people the risk of side effects from being vaccinated against Covid-19 is much less than the risk of Covid itself. But my confidence that adverse effects from vaccines are rare is shaken by the thought that maybe not all of them are being reported. If that disturbs me, with my fairly high starting level of trust, you can be sure that it terrifies those who were vaccine-hesitant to start with.

Laws named after victims

If a proposed law is worth passing, pass it.

If a proposed law is not worth passing, don’t pass it. Most proposed laws are not worth passing.

When they have to name a proposed law after a murdered person or other tragic victim to make you feel that it would be disrespectful to reject it, that is a sign the proposed law cannot stand on its own merits.

PM urged to enact ‘David’s law’ against social media abuse after Amess’s death.

Samizdata quote of the day

Economies and societies fall apart slowly, then a bit more, then all at once. We seem to be in the middle period of this trajectory. The slow part began March 2020 when politicians around the world imagined that it would be no big deal to shut down the economy and restart it once the virus went away. What a beautiful display of the power of government it would be, or so they believed. We’ll all have a big celebration, said the president.

The virus was never going to go away, which meant that there was no exit ramp. Congress spent money and the Fed cranked up the presses to pay the bills, while checks were stuffed into bank accounts all over the country, all to mask the growing economic devastation.

None of it worked. You cannot turn off an economy and normal social functioning and then turn them back on like a light switch. The attempt alone will necessarily cause unpredictable amounts of long-term breakage, not only of economic structures but also of the spirit of a people. Everything going on now reflects the disastrous presumption that doing that would be possible and not cause dramatic and lasting damage.

It was the greatest failure of politics in a century or perhaps in all of human history, when you consider just how many governments were involved in committing the same idiocy all at once.

Jeffrey Tucker